New Strategies For Planning And Development

by Garry Jacobs

National planning is a science in its infancy. Development itself, which is the purported goal of our planning, is a new phenomenon arising from the conscious effort of government to induce a rapid transformation of a traditional, pre-industrial, rural-based society into a modern industrial nation. The countries we refer to as the Developed Nations were not really developed at all, at least not by any comprehensive plan of their own governments. Rather they grew, for the most part spontaneously, by a natural process of tapping and harnessing the enormous human, scientific, and material potentials around them.

What was achieved in the West by this process of spontaneous unplanned growth over more than a century has been adopted as the conscious goal of developing countries to be achieved in a few short decades by a comprehensive effort to mobilise all the available resources of the society and channel them in such a manner as to obtain the maximum benefit for the country as a whole.

This is the process of development as it occurs today and it is essential that we keep in mind both the unprecedented nature of the endeavour and the infinite complexity of the activities which we seek to coordinate and control.

The effort of a nation to develop itself is a stupendous task of monumental proportions. It is necessarily an experimental process, where trial and error is the standard textbook for each new activity; but the needs of the country are so great, the scope for improvement so vast, the present achievements so meager in comparison with the goals the nation has set for itself, that almost any well-intended initiative of any type in any area is bound to yield positive results.

Few in India today are fully conscious of the enormous progress this nation has made in a brief thirty years since Independence. Even at the Planning level there may not be a clear understanding of the extent of past achievements, or more importantly, the strategies and policies which made this achievement possible.

Planning inevitably involves the formulation of goals, policies, strategies and priorities. Sometimes they are consciously conceived and implemented. Often they are evolved on a trial and error basis in the course of crisis management and experimentation, or formulated retrospectively after the event.

In his recent book The New Strategy for Indian Agriculture, former Union Finance Minister C.Subramaniam, relates the fascinating events which led up to and resulted in the Green Revolution of the late 1960's. When Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded Nehru as Prime Minister, Subramaniam accepted the politically dangerous portfolio of Food and Agriculture Minister. The new government set as its goal self-sufficiency in food grains, and began evolving a comprehensive and integrated strategy for raising agricultural output which resulted in an enormous boost in wheat production in the following decade from an average of 10 million tons to 30 million tons per year.

The strategy provided for increased price support to the farmers to make agriculture remunerative; establishment of an Agricultural Prices Commission for ongoing study of this issue; creation of Food Corporation of India to guarantee a market to the farmer at the support price; constitution of other supporting organisations like Warehousing Corporation, Fertilizer Corporation, National Seeds Corporation, and State Farm Corporation.

The strategy also contained provision to reorganise scientific research in this field to free it from bureaucratic constraints and to upgrade the status of agricultural researchers. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research was established as an autonomous authority with 22 agricultural universities and all the national and state level research institutions under its command. The Agricultural Research Service was also formed along the lines of the IAS.

The other major element of the strategy was the introduction of the new agricultural technology itself, i.e. high yielding hybrid wheat strains, supported by a huge educational campaign in the media and a national demonstration programme involving thousands of demonstration plots throughout the country.

It is widely regarded that the introduction of the hybrid wheat was the real cause of the Green Revolution; whereas, in fact, without the other strategic changes as a foundation, this new technology -- no matter how good in itself -- could not have made the profound contribution which it actively did. The result of all this was the miracle called the Green Revolution, which in retrospect was no miracle at all; but rather the product of a highly perceptive, well thought-out and carefully executed multi-pronged and integrated strategy to upgrade a two thousand year old tradition into a modern industry.

The strategy and achievements of the Green Revolution present a very clear and inspiring example of what can be accomplished by centralized planning for development. Yet despite this singular achievement, the process of plan allocations today is still based primarily on crisis management and the politics of competition among the states for a greater share in the plan outlays.

At the time of Independence, the new government inherited an impressive, nearly overwhelming, list of priority needs -- food to prevent starvation, medicine to eradicate epidemic diseases, schools to educate the masses, power and steel to build industry, housing for the homeless, etc. Indeed the urgency of these needs was so great, the means to satisfy them so meager, that there seemed little need for academic research or debate on the best strategy to pursue. Decisions were governed by the pressure of circumstances. Expenditure was made according to the severity of the crisis in each sector.

The First Plan stressed industry, the Second heavy industry and the Third Plan agriculture. By the end of the Third Plan we were already moving ahead on many fronts simultaneously; dividing up available resources among the many requirements in some proportion to the urgency and importance assigned to each sector.

At the same time the Planning process became politicised with each state government striving for a bigger share in order to win favour with voters at home. Their emphasis was not on the overall needs of the country or on the best use for the available funds, but simply on getting "their fair share". It was not development which was important, but rather expenditure; and the bigger the expenditure, the better. The biggest, best, most visible and therefore prestigious expenditure was that made on giant projects -- dams, power stations, steel mills, paper factories, cement plants, etc. Thus, pressure mounted year by year for a more and more political, division of funds to the states.

Now exactly what is missing in both the crisis management, need-based planning and the politicized allocation of plan funds, is the type of integrated strategy which made the Green Revolution possible. Today we have met most of the more urgent crises, at least temporarily. This is an opportunity to review what has been done and what have been the results, and to formulate new strategies which like those of Green Revolution rise above the short term perspective of crisis management and the myopia of regional rivalries.

There are several essential elements which must be considered in evolving new strategies for development. First is the power of a system. Given a scarcity of resources for production, a system has the power to increase the net output by more efficient utilization of those resources. Second is the power of coordination, coordination between departments of the government, between sectors of the economy, between sections of the society, between states of the nation. Coordination yields greater results for each group and eliminates the wastage associated with isolated activities.

The Green Revolution was accomplished by a few dynamic creative individuals coordinating various fields of change through new systems. It needs to be examined how far this approach can be institutionalised and incorporated as a natural part of the planning process.